AUBURN — Bob Ryder was sentenced Wednesday to serve 21 years in prison for the beating death of Danita Brown in 2011.
Ryder, 22, of Lewiston pleaded guilty in June to manslaughter. A murder indictment was dismissed.
At that time, Ryder told police he had paid Danita Brown, 38, of New Gloucester twice for sex and twice she'd taken the money and vanished. The third time, after meeting her at a downtown Lewiston market, Ryder gave Brown $100. She followed him home. They had sex. Afterward, he fractured her skull with a heavy wooden clock, he told police.
Ryder's Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor went to police to tell them that Ryder had confided in him about the killing.
But Ryder changed his story several times before his plea, a prosecutor said Wednesday. In one version, he told police they didn't have sex; in another, that he had blacked out. He said he caught Brown going through his wallet. At one point, he said someone else had killed her.
Not only is the exact chain of events unknown, so is the motive.
“It is unclear exactly why the defendant did this,” Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese said. “I'm not sure we will ever know. And certainly the court doesn't know . . . only the defendant knows why he killed her.”
What's clear, Marchese said, is that Ryder made an effort to conceal his crime by moving Brown's bludgeoned body to the unfinished basement under his first-floor apartment at 417 Main St., Lewiston. He sprinkled baking soda on her body to lessen the odor of decomposition.
Marchese said Ryder had long fantasized about sexual aggression toward older women.
“Sadly, the death of Danita Brown under the circumstances of this case was almost predictable,” she said.
She said he was a danger to society and needed extensive counseling.
He was less than honorably discharged from the military. He burglarized a home, committed theft and, twice, trespass.
Marchese asked that Ryder serve 26 years in prison.
Justin Leary, Ryder's attorney, said his client was a hard worker and a high school graduate who had no history of violence.
Ryder was able to sustain a “positive relationship” with a woman with whom he had a daughter, Leary said.
He said Ryder posed no heightened risk to the community and had recommitted to his religious faith.
“It was one burst of anger that caused this tragedy,” Leary said. Nothing was planned or premeditated.
Dressed in a blue jail suit, Ryder stood before the judge and said he was sorry for what he'd done and apologized to Brown's family.
“I know what I did was wrong,” he said. “I'm going to stay doing what I need to do to change, so nothing like this ever happens again.”
Leary and others, including Ryder's legal guardian for years, told the judge about the challenges he's faced since he was a young child. He had been physically, sexually and emotionally abused, then moved through a succession of foster homes starting when he was 5 years old, they said.
“It was a very difficult life for a young man,” Maureen Dillane said.
The judge would later describe the abuse Ryder suffered during his upbringing as "unspeakable and heinous."
Brown, who had nine children, was represented by many family members in the courtroom.
Those who spoke on behalf of Ryder asked the judge for mercy while the victim's family sought justice.
Mike Tibbetts, Brown's fiance, said their son, Mitch, asks almost every day why his mom is dead.
"I can't tell him the real reason because it's too ugly for a 6-year-old boy to understand," Tibbetts said.
If Ryder had called for help after assaulting Brown, it might have saved her life, Tibbetts said. Central Maine Medical Center was across the street from Ryder's apartment.
Instead, the fact that Ryder chose to think only of himself by hiding her body in his basement is the worst of the crime, Tibbetts said.
"He seems to have no human compassion for others," Tibbetts said. "I feel the defendant is a dangerous person and should be treated accordingly."
Danita Brown's uncle, Thomas Brown, read a statement from Danita's Brown's daughter, Emily, who doesn't remember meeting her mother.
"Not only has she been taken away from me, but the chance to meet her and to get to know her as my mother has been taken away." Meeting her mother was something she had looked forward to more than anything else, she wrote.
"All I'm left with are pictures and stories," she wrote. "I hope she gets the justice she deserves."
Shortly before imposing her sentence on Ryder, Justice MaryGay Kennedy read excerpts from some of the letters from Brown's family, including their sleeplessness and nightmares.
"The only thing that is very clear is that Danita Brown told you all how much she loved you all of the time," Kennedy said to Brown's assembled family. "Hold on to that. That's something that can never be taken away from you."
She added, "This family has clearly been shaken to the core. They have crippling anger and they are forever changed."
Kennedy said Brown had had a difficult life, suffering encephalitis as a child and, later, plagued by drug addiction.
Ryder, who was hunched in his chair, didn't react visibly when the judge announced how much time he would serve in prison.
After his release from prison, Ryder must not have contact with his immediate biological family members or prostitutes. He must report to his probation officer any dating or sexual relationships, complete mental health counseling, attend anger management counseling, complete traumatic brain injury evaluation and follow all prescribed treatment. He will be on an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. curfew and must undergo sex-offender evaluation and comply with the recommendations, Kennedy said.